NEW Public School of Sask OpEd

Public Schools of Saskatchewan
March 26, 2020

In its ruling released March 25, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the April 2017 decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench in what has come to be known as the Theodore case, a legal effort to clarify the mandate of separate school divisions in this province. Public school divisions across Saskatchewan are disappointed in the court’s ruling, but this may not be the end of the legal road.

In the original Queen’s Bench decision, the court found government funding of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools violates two sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These sections pertain to equality rights and the state’s duty of religious neutrality. It also found there is no constitutional right for separate schools to receive government funding for non-minority faith students.

Now we have differing opinions from two levels of our courts on the original intention of establishing a separate school system, and whether that system should be allowed to admit, and receive provincial funding for, non-Catholic students. Public Schools of Saskatchewan will consider seeking leave to appeal this most recent decision to the Supreme Court of Canada for a final determination that will also affect Ontario and Alberta, the only other provinces in Canada with Catholic schools.

It is important to reiterate this legal action is not, and never has been, about whether separate schools should exist in Saskatchewan; separate schools are protected in the constitution. What the courts were asked to clarify is whether schools set up specifically to serve the religious minority, to educate Catholic children ‘separate’ from others, should be allowed to accept anyone. That, in fact, is the mandate of our public school system; we are open to all. Catholic schools look more ‘public’ than ‘separate’ when they enroll non-Catholics and receive provincial dollars for students not of that faith.

For Public School of Saskatchewan—15 public school boards responsible for educating some 133,000 students—an appropriately funded, robust public education system is the cornerstone of our liberal democracy. Equally important is
the fact public schools welcome every student no matter who they are or where
they live, thereby creating schools that truly reflect our secular society.

As this legal process unfolds, we cannot forget the government passed Bill 89 in May
2018. Called the School Choice Protection Act, the bill would allow the current
funding practice to continue “notwithstanding” court rulings that say it’s off side.
Although Bill 89 has yet to be proclaimed into law, we do not believe the Theodore
case justifies a government operating outside the charter.

From the start of this legal action more than 13 years ago, Public Schools of
Saskatchewan has been committed to an inclusive public education system for the
benefit of everyone. The goal is to provide the best possible learning opportunities
for all.

Colleen MacPherson, Chair, Public Schools of Saskatchewan
Norm Dray, Executive Director, Public Schools of Saskatchewan